Monthly Archives: May 2012

Love your brain. Love you. Be who you are always.

*I may delete this post someday if I decide it’s too personal or realize that it would bother any of my children.  If you think it falls into either of those categories, I am open to recommendations on deleting it…feel free to weigh in!*

So if you’ve read the last couple of blog posts, you know that I’m thinking a lot about the kids these days.  That trend continues with this post, which contains two stories and some reflections about S, particularly with regards to the awesome way she engages in, and expresses, her learning.

There is a refrain in these stories.  It is…

“I love your brain, S.  And I love you.  Be who you are always.”

And the stories are as follows…

 

 

Story 1: S (who turned four in February) learned to write her name this year.   It is so cute, with its crooked, all-capital, all-over-the-page letters that I asked her to write it on a blank sheet of paper for me, so I could file that paper in her box of “special things from childhood”.

We sat down at the kitchen table together, side-by-side.  I gave her a sheet of paper, she chose her marker, and then – to my surprise – she started to make all sorts of non-sensical marks.

Now, I have seen S write her name many, many times.  She knows how to do it.  But these were just scribbles.

I didn’t say anything – just waited to see how many marks she was going to make and what she would say when she was done.

She finished, and put the cap on the marker.

I looked at the page full of scribbles, and S looked at me.

Then she looked back at the paper, rotated it 180 degrees, and there, in those precious crooked, all-capital, all-over-the-page letters was her name.  She had written it in reverse and upside down, so that (with the exception of one backwards letter), it was a three-year-old’s version of perfect when she turned the page around.

I almost fell out of my chair.

I swear, if I were reading this, I would think the author was lying or exaggerating, but honest-to-goodness that is exactly how it happened.  The follow-up is that I later sat down with my own pen and paper and tried to do it, and it is not easy.

Furthermore – just because I think it’s interesting, I will mention that I have paid attention since, when she doesn’t realize I’m watching, and never seen her write her name this way again…it was something about me asking her to do it and sitting right next to her, I guess???

The refrain…get ready for it…

“I love your brain, S.  And I love you.  Be who you are always.”

 

 

Story 2:  One day while I was busy cleaning up the house, I noticed that the pieces of one our puzzles had been scattered across the playroom table, and I asked S to help by doing the puzzle.  She collected all the pieces she could find (2 were missing at the time), sat down to work, and after a minute or so, said, “I did the puzzle, mama!  Come look!”

I went over with the intention of quickly viewing, collecting and putting away the puzzle, but had to stop when I saw the ultimate results of her efforts.  This is what I saw:

Not a single puzzle piece was in the “right” place.

Now I know S can do this puzzle, so I was curious.  I sat down next to her and asked her to tell me about her work.  She said, “I decided that this puzzle would be more fun if I made a rule about how I could do it.  My rule was that all the pieces had to go with their right color, but none of them were allowed to go with their right shape.”  And now it’s done.

The refrain again…get ready for it…

“I love your brain, S.  And I love you.  Be who you are always.”

Later, I gave her a much harder puzzle to do.  Here’s what the puzzle typically looks like:

And here’s what it looked like after S was finished with it:

That’s right, every piece fitted together…upside down.

Clearly, it was too easy – or not interesting enough? – to do with the picture side up.

Can I sing the refrain one more time?

“I love your brain, S.  And I love you.  Be who you are always.”

 

 

A mama’s reflection:

I have said many times (including in this blog) that I love the way S sees and engages the world.   I actually say this more often than I might otherwise because (1) it is simply beyond awesome, in my opinion, and (2) as she gets older, I worry that she is going to encounter lots of people – especially in school – who don’t appreciate her more unique perspective, so she needs to hear it from her mama in every way and as many times as I can say it.

She has not encountered any naysaying yet.  From what I’ve seen, Pre-K and Kindergarten programs seem to take pride in allowing children to be creative (shout out to E & S’ teachers here!).  In the young years, schools are great about introducing an idea, then letting the kids run with it in any direction they choose.  However, looking down the road, I have to admit that I am worried about finding the right school for S after Kindergarten is over.  Maybe I worry needlessly, but from what I do know, encouraging unique, creative, explorations & expressions is not the top priority in a lot of grade 1-12 environments.

The things I list below are, in my opinion, important for all students.  But there are some who will struggle more than others when asked to limit themselves to “acceptable” learning styles and expressions.  And I think S may be in this category both because (1) her style is relatively unique and (2) she is not one to cow-tow to any systems “just because”.  As her mom, I can help her figure out when to “play the game” and when to challenge the system (and how to evaluate the consequences of both courses of action), and I can give her advice on how to be who she is while code switching to get the most out of what traditional education has to offer.  But honestly, what she really needs is the right learning environment for her.

Ideally, S needs teachers all the way through that are going to challenge her with a question or idea and then let her try her own way of doing things without interruption.

It will be especially important for S to have a teacher that will encourage her to explore her own ideas and processes instead of “correcting” her when they see her headed down a path that seems to make absolutely no sense.

I am desperate to find teachers for her that are like those we have encountered in our pre-K and Kindergarten classrooms…teachers that will NOT try to make her thinking and expression fit into a standard path, but will instead celebrate her very unique way of seeing and engaging the world…

If they stifle her, or make her feel self-conscious or defensive or (I shudder to write it) – make her feel wrong – about approaching things differently, the world is going to miss out on the true essence of S.

(Moreover, my girl is impassioned, so she’s probably going to tell them what she thinks about their methods, and then get punished for it, unless she’s in a pretty special setting.  I mean, if a teacher had asked her to write her name, stopped her as soon as she saw the unrecognizable marks, told her she had misunderstood the instructions, removed her paper and given her blank sheet with instructions to try again, I can tell you that the S I know would absolutely refuse to do it, thinking, “I was writing my name, and you insulted and stopped me.  There’s no way I’m going to start writing it again”.  What no one will realize is that behind all that fire, she’s hiding a bruised spirit and hurt feelings.  And then her dad and I are going to be in the principal’s office trying to sort it all out.)

Maybe Calvin’s parents could give us some tips…  (And by the way, I believe that all students are “utterly and exquisite crystals”… and lots of teachers are too : )

Any suggestions on where to find a post-Kindergarten classroom that can manage all that?  I mean, I am a former teacher, and I know the challenge.  And I have lots of teacher friends who meet and exceed this challenge.  They are fantastic (you know who you are folks…and I love you for it!)  But it’s a lot to ask of a teacher to give a creative child leeway to explore alternate means of completing assignments, when that teacher has 18+ young children to prepare for a mandatory standardized test (i.e. I am not sure what is even fair to ask teachers to do, given all their responsibilities…)

(Along this note, as a former teacher giving a shout out to all teachers, I can tell you that every child has a unique perspective and that “the system” makes it very difficult for teachers to engage them all as individuals.  We need to do better as a society at addressing this.  In the meantime, I’m thinking about my now 4 year old daughter.  In terms of the “formal” schooling she’ll face in a few years, what’s the best place for S?)

 

 

SIDE NOTE:  My current solution is to beg my friend L (a former teacher and principal) to move her family here from Colorado and open a school and enroll all my children in it.  I will make her job relatively easier by introducing her to several teachers in this area, and insisting all my other amazing teacher friends move here and work in the school too.   A little background:  When L and I were studying education together, a guest speaker came into our classroom to teach us some math skills.  He wrote some problem on the board that I don’t remember exactly, but it was something like,

“Find 4 odd numbers that, when added together, equal the number 63.”

Well, he gave us a few minutes, saw everyone looking quizzical, and then provided the answer, which was that since 4 odd numbers will always equal an even number, it couldn’t be done.

Everyone looked relieved except my friend L who raised her hand and told him that it could be done, and she would be happy to reveal the method.  In response, the speaker launched into a re-explanation intended to convince her that you can’t get 63 by adding 4 numbers that are odd.

She responded by asking if she could write her answer on the board.

When she wrote the following:

the guest speaker almost looked relieved.  He predictably told her that her answer wrong, because 60 was not an odd number.

L, who still had the dry erase marker in her hand, simply continued writing until her answer looked like this:

Then she told the guest speaker that he simply needed to expand his definition of odd.

(How’s that for awesome? I approached L after class and basically told her she should decide whether she wanted me to be her friend or her stalker…)

I’d be ok with her teaching S!

A Bedtime Story

So the kids are always on my mind, but they’ve consumed my thoughts even more than usual recently because they are all changing so quickly…  The next few posts may be very “my-kid-centric”.  You’ve been warned!

I’ll start with E (the oldest at age 5).

Monday night, I put her to bed at 7:15 and gave her 5 new library books to snuggle up with.  At 7:45, I saw her sitting at her desk writing.  She noticed me watching her from the doorway and excitedly told me that one of the books we had checked out was now her favorite book ever.  She was going to write down every single word so she could always have those words with her.

Can I Play Too? An Elephant and Piggy Book by Mo Willems.  This whole series is awesome, by the way.

In that moment, E’s excitement was incredibly contagious.  I mean, she was bubbling over with enthusiasm and pride.  I remember thinking that her eyes were all sparkly, and her cheeks were all rosy, and she was all inspired because she had just finished the very first book she had ever simply picked up and read by herself.  We check out books that she reads to me – or to her dad – all the time.  But this time, she had gone through the pile, selected a book and read it in her room alone.  I could just envision her, up there, curled up in her bed reading, almost giddy about the fact that she was reading all by herself.  Of course it’s her new favorite book for that reason alone!

Anyway, I was so distracted by her excitement, and my excitement for her, that I gave her another kiss goodnight and went downstairs without thinking about any other parts of the conversation too much.  And after a few minutes, her room became so quiet that I assumed she had fallen asleep.

Until she appeared downstairs an hour and a half later – at 9:15 (way past bedtime!) – holding this:

That’s three regular sized pieces of paper taped together by E, currently displayed in all their glory on one of the main doors in the house.

Yes.  That’s right.  She wrote down every single word in the book, just like she told me she was going to right before I got distracted by all her contagious, wonderful, happy. She had worked for almost 2 hours to do it.  (I mean, really, imagine yourself loving a library book so much that you finished the last page, and simply had to express your appreciation by turning back to page one and eagerly copying down the entire book from the first word to the last…)

I was simultaneously, impressed, proud, shocked and so happy for my girl who was literally bouncing up and down with excitement over her accomplishment.  She said (during literal jumps and bounds and amid great pointing at her papers),

“Look!  Every word!  I wrote them all!  And some of the letters in the book were fancy (i.e. in italics).  I didn’t copy all the curly parts of those letters, but I did some and I wrote every letter!  And they made some letters capital that I knew my teacher said should be lowercase, so I made them lowercase in my book.  Don’t you just love it?!”

Well, yes I do E.  I think it’s awesome, quite honestly.  And the post-it at the top of the photo is from your dad, who happened to be working late the night you wrote this, and wanted you to see his celebration of it first thing in the morning.  (And, by the way, your Aunt A will love that you edited the writing in the published edition of the book!)

(Also, another by-the-way… amid all the enthusiasm, can someone tell me if I should be feeling a little mommy guilt over the fact that it never even occurred to E to ask me if she could get a copy of the book that she loved so much?  Obviously, I am proud of the work ethic, and clearly we haven’t spoiled her, but have we erred a little too far on that side of things?   And if we get the book for her now, will she be thrilled?   Or will she think we don’t appreciate her hand-printed version – complete with illustration!)

Or maybe I’m overthinking all of it.  Which would be exactly like me…

Regardless, to snap myself out of the worry, I will end by saying that while I was typing this blog post, E came downstairs and told me she wasn’t sleepy.  She should have been snoozing over an hour ago; everyone else in the house is asleep.  So I decided to surprise her greatly by asking her not to go back to bed, but to instead go get me her beloved Little House on the Prairie book (which S is growing into, and T just does not yet have the patience for, which makes it hard to read during the day).  We read a dozen pages, and when we finished, I spent a few minutes curling her hair (something she has been begging me to do, and I attempted for the first time ever tonight…using socks…anyone ever tried that method?).  Anyway, an important, enjoyable, and very fun memory with E that I wanted to record here…

And proof that maybe I’m spoiling her in other ways : )

Love you, E!

And love your book…

update on the past month, part 2

Other things we’ve been up to this month…

(1)  Exploring!

Here we are at NC State’s “farm day”.  Note to self: pack vegetarian lunches next year.  Otherwise, S may look at the animals walking around in their pens and ask questions like, “Is that turkey like the turkey I just ate for lunch?” and you will have to field panicked looks from nearby families until you say something misleading like “NO ONE is going to eat THAT turkey!!!”  (and at least one mother will mouth the words “thank you” as you’re leaving.)

S milking a pretend cow. There were also bunnies to pet, calf statues to lasso, and free ice cream. I thought T would like the “touch a tractor” section, but he just yelled “Big Scary Truck!” as we moved away.  I guess he’s used to the matchbox versions.

We also visited the big museum about 40 minutes away (a special outing for us!).  Friends gave us passes they weren’t using (thank you!), and we had an absolute blast.  T fed his train obsession in this exhibit.

T could have happily played here for the entire day.

And how about this sign at the exit of that exhibit?

It’s like they knew T was coming…

(2)  Celebrating!

Our cousins had lots of birthdays, so we have been to their house for a “Tangled”-themed treasure hunt, to a park near their house for their one-year-old’s cake smashing soiree, and to a pasture within that park to just admire the horses and views.  (Thank you, cousins!)  One photo, from my brother, who is by far my favorite photographer (as long as he’s not taking “work photos” of my children, i.e. “X-rays”…)  Can you believe this photo was taken by someone who just plays around with the camera during the off-time from his Orthopedic Surgery practice?

S in the white, E in the green, cousin G with the long ponytail and cousin E in his superman cape.  Childhood captured in photo.

(3)  Hanging around

Check out E on the swing in our backyard.  Photo credit to my brother again.  How much about spring and childhood and E is captured in this one photo of her muddy feet?  Volumes, I tell you.

(4)  Fishing!

Nana got the kids a fishing pole AND managed to disassemble the pole and fix it after I broke it (thank you, Nana!).  Since I clearly don’t know how to handle a rod, dad took over the casting lessons, and the kids had a blast.

Noteworthy: the kids will spend an hour catching minnows and tadpoles in their nets at the local pond and collecting them in a water filled bowl that we pour back into the pond before we leave.  Here are E & T inspecting their catches with Nana…

Also noteworthy: the girls “fished” for an hour with dad with a plastic stopper on the end of the reel (i.e. no bait or hook) and were thrilled with the experience.  I can’t imagine what they will do when we actually introduce the idea that you could use the pole to catch a fish.

(5)  Trying to keep our heads above water in terms of housework

With this much fun going on, mom has had to work overtime to simply keep our familial feet underneath us.  Exhibit A: every few weeks I have to go through a pile that looks like this to pull any artwork or projects we want to save.

This process deserves a post of its own.  Stay tuned.  Then there’s the normal stuff.  I mentioned before that I lost the battle with the laundry.  I fared only slightly better in the kitchen.  And Nana saved me with regards to everything else.  (see below)

(6)  Spent time with Nana!

Nana’s visit was devoted to catching up, hanging out, and pitching in. In addition to fishing, playing, taking the kids to several museums (T was adorable riding the train at the local science museum and still asks to “go ride James” again at least every other day), Nana just rolled up her sleeves and help me get some things done.

More detail?   I am just out of the first trimester of pregnancy, which means I am still exhausted, but also feeling my version of a nesting instinct.  Much to my husband’s dismay, I have no desire to clean, but an overwhelming urge to organize and declutter (my normal instinct, but taken to a fever-pitch during pregnancy).  The end result: During pregnancy, I am desperate to get organized but too tired to actually do it, which leaves me very frustrated.  While she was here, Nana helped me sort through the kids outgrown clothes and she watched the kids and took care of lots of everyday things (the kitchen! the laundry!) while I tackled the attic, my desk, the bankbook, and several projects that have been languishing on my “to-do” list literally for years.  Thank you, Nana!  We loved playing with you and are so appreciative of all the help.  (I haven’t listed everything you helped me catch up on because I am embarrassed that I was that far behind!)

More updates coming…have I mentioned that it’s been a busy month?!

Updates and photos from last month (part 1!)

So I’ve been AWOL (life has been busy!) and have been promising an update…

Here’s the short version: we’ve been having fun, which has involved a spring break “staycation”, a week recovering from that staycation (hello, laundry), a wonderful Easter, and then a great visit from Nana!

And here’s the longer version: updates and photos from our last month (part 1)…

Each girl got to pick one special “must do” for the week of spring break.  To my surprise (why did I think they would stay in my comfort zone?) E picked “make a dress for our dolls” and S picked “plant a garden”.  Holy moly.  I have no experience in either of those things.  (It did make me glad I asked however, since there is no way I would have put either one on a list of plans, and obviously they are unexplored areas of interest!)  Anyway, here we are at the fabric store…

fuzzy cell phone photo

After a “looking loop” around the store, each girl was allowed to pick out one yard of any fabric they wanted, and one foot of any ribbon they wanted.  E & S surprised me by both selecting the same fabric and ribbons.  (They wanted their dolls to match, I guess!)  T got a piece of fabric with cars on it that I hoped would become his new lovey, but alas that role was filled by the racecar and Toby train the Easter Bunny brought him.  Not conducive to sleeping – rolling over onto those loveys (especially Toby, who says “full steam ahead!” everytime T bumps him in the crib).  Oh well.  He loves them!

Anyway, here’s the dolls in their dresses.  Since I don’t know how to sew, these are more like glittery sackcloths, but they made the girls happy!

E said, “Her dress looks a little like a bathrobe, but I like it!”

Thanks to Nana who did an actual sewing lesson with the girls when she visited a few weeks after this (with a real sewing machine).  I keep a few cloths around the house for various things, and one now has random, festive stitches all over it.  An easy way to have the kids feel like they were “really sewing important things” (at least until the machine stopped working…anyone have a spare manual for a JC Penney sewing machine purchased in the mid 1980s?)  Here’s one of my new decorative cloths below.

Just look at that stitching! She’s a natural, I say! : )

We’re hoping to complete the set after (1) we figure out what’s going on with the sewing machine, and (2) Nana comes back to teach me how to thread and use it.

S’ project was the garden.  I am not a gardener, but we headed over to Home Depot (with their optimistic “You can do it.  We can help.” motto).  S & E picked out three things to plant (1) marigolds: the only flowers the deer won’t eat, (2) carrots: the only vegetable S will eat, and (3) basil: because the man who helped us said there was almost no way I could mess it up.

After hours and hours of shoveling, weeding, removing rocks, adding topsoil, planting, and lots of muddy shoes and jeans piling up on the porch, we have the smallest garden ever.  It is impressive only to me and the children.  (I promise, we truly have spent countless hours on it, but it is really only a 4 x 6 patch of ground with 12 flowers and some tiny sprouts that are either carrots or weeds…I honestly don’t know how to tell them apart, so I have no idea if I’m weeding, or ruining our only crop.  I am not kidding about this.)

The two big rocks on the left that we used to mark the rows of carrots and basil kind of look like gravemarkers for our struggling-to-survive garden. Seriously, is anything going to grow in that red clay? We added two huge bags of topsoil, but honestly, I have no idea what I’m doing.

And in the interest of internet input, can someone please click on this photo to enlarge it and tell me if any of the green things sticking out of the ground look like the beginning of a carrot-top?

OK, so if you can fight the impulse to tell me we should have added more topsoil and removed more rocks (I promise, we were removing rocks for hours…), tell me instead which of these green leaves is a carrot sprouting, and which is a weed. Carrot at the top of the photo? Weed at the bottom? All weeds? Egads. I think I’m going to go to the grocery store, buy a bunch of fully grown carrots and plant them one night after the kids go to bed and then take everybody outside to harvest them the next morning. In case you think I’m kidding with this plan, I have already done my research. Apparently, they sell carrots at Whole Foods that still have the green leafy parts on top. Score!

Anyway, the kids love watering the flowers; it has been a fun adventure, and I give us an “A” for effort.  My grandma J, who – God rest her soul – (1) won all sorts of yard and neighborhood beautification awards, (2) was in charge of all the flowers for our church for decades and (3) grew the rose petals that lined the aisle of my wedding, would applaud our efforts too.  She would appreciate that at this stage of life, we are certainly process (as opposed to product) oriented!

My grandmother would also likely laugh at the fact that the flowers we are trying to grow are in a battle to survive, while the part of our yard that received no TLC and is “supposed” to be grassy is covered in the most lush display of flowery “weeds” you can imagine.  I mean, check out the photo below.

Yes, I love them. But honestly, “My kingdom for a carrot!”

The brick wall marks the property line between our house and the neighbors.  It’s like the weeds magically stop there (much to the delight of the girls, and to the dismay of my husband).

It is uncanny. I will say that these flowers provide hours of entertainment for the children, because they are determined that none of them be chopped by the lawn mower. Every time my husband says he’s going to mow the lawn, they sprint outside to pick all the flowers and cover my kitchen in bouquets. I will miss this stage so much when they grow out of it…sigh…at least then I will know that I really did try to enjoy it all in the moment.  Bring on the bouquets, girls!

Finally, since I mentioned the racecar and train that appeared in T’s Easter basket, let me include a few photos of the holiday.  We tried to capture the meaning of the season – telling the kids an age-appropriate version of the crucifixion and resurrection (when S heard Jesus died and came back to life, she said, “Hmm.  I think that’s what I’ll do too”, then let out that little breath that almost made it sound like “Well then, that’s one less thing to worry about.  What’s for dinner?”  It was a good opportunity to tell her we can all come back to life, and live forever in heaven.  (Happy belated Easter, everyone!)

Then there were the secular celebrations.  Here we are dyeing Easter eggs

T got a plastic egg and a cup of water, and was absolutely a part of it at the age of 1!

I know you can see the plastic egg in the photo…can you also see the clear plastic cup of water he dunked this egg into for half an hour? He kept yelling out random colors while he did it, mimicking the words his sisters were saying as they dyed their eggs. I remember taking this photo. He shoved the egg right at the camera and yelled “purple!” So we have the spirit of the activity covered…we’ll work on colors next year : )

S at our church egg hunt

Hunting eggs in our house Easter morning

E & S hunting eggs on Easter morning. Note that it is still pitch black outside the windows. The kids were so excited that they woke up insanely early. Also…note to self: ask the Easter Bunny to make a quick list of where the eggs are hidden. There was one we couldn’t find for a few days, and of course it was one of the real, hard boiled eggs. Fortunately, we did find it before the smell found us! I was like Kirk in that episode of Gilmore Girls, looking for the egg…anyone else remember that episode?!

We also enjoyed spending part of the weekend with cousins and the other part with friends.  Beautiful company, beautiful weather, beautiful time.  Love all y’all!

In the “less than beautiful” category…My deviled eggs didn’t turn out exactly right…

I had promised deviled eggs, then learned that I couldn’t use the boiled Easter eggs that were hidden overnight at room temperature (health risk, apparently), so I only had the two eggs left in the fridge to work with. Me in the kitchen + no spare ingredients = no room for error/recipe for disaster. My mother-in-law gave me this awesome tray to hold deviled eggs in, and I am embarrassed to say that these eggs were so misshapen they wouldn’t even fit in the tray. Oh well. This is why no one complains when I bring pre-packaged cookies to potluck gatherings.

Between the flowers and the eggs, my grandmother would finally have to admit that I inherited absolutely none of her talents…but my admiration for those talents is ever increasing grandma!  This gardening and cooking is tricky stuff!

More updates on S’ new obsession with cooking in the next post…  Here’s hoping she has inherited my grandma’s skill as well as her interest, and that she can take over the kitchen soon!  S is actually so into cooking right now that I’m thinking of arranging an apprenticeship with my Mother-in-law, who is an amazing cook and maybe planning to visit soon.  Are you up for it Grammy?!

I’ll leave you with a photo of the laundry that accumulated while we were doing all this other stuff.  The laundry problem was exacerbated by the fact that the week after spring break was unseasonably cold, which meant I could just shove all the dirty warm weather stuff deeper into the hamper and pull out all the winter things I had just put away.  End result?  Well, check out laundry day…

There are no people in the photo because we were all basically walking around in towels by this point.

My husband, never one to complain, actually looked at the growing pile shortly after spring break, sighed, and went out and bought himself new boxers.  True story.

(And lest that be misinterpreted, know that he is actually great about helping out with the laundry and everything else around the house, but in his infinite marital wisdom realized that buying a few new boxers was probably the best investment in overall domestic contentment.  And his wife says, “amen to that”.  I don’t need a six-week retreat in Fiji.  But occasionally, I do need a week of blissfully ignoring the laundry : )

So that’s part I of our update…to be continued with part II later.  Hope everyone else is enjoying spring too!